To really check out the town and beaches, we have to drive. We stop on Route 413 at the Banana Dang coffeehouse, a Rincon icon with a laid-back vibe. The coffee is wonderfully strong, and I need the boost when Kai pitches a tantrum after spilling the last two ounces of his smoothie.
By the time we arrive at Pools beach, Michelle and crew are gone. But there’s a Puerto Rican girl about Kai’s age and her dad, who sits on a shaded rock making cellphone calls while the kids play around a tide pool. Somewhere, parents are surfing while boys frolic, but I can’t in good conscience shove my kid back into the car for a wild goose chase. I unfurl a towel and a New Yorker magazine and settle in.
I decide that this will be a Kai day, a wise move given that Kai had long ago decided the same thing. For lunch we drive up the hill to the El Batey grill, an outdoor counter where chef Carla grills a juicy chicken kebab as we gaze down to the white-capped sea and the rocky silhouette of Desecheo, an uninhabited island 13 miles offshore. Carla says that she regularly spots whales from here during the winter migration.
Our reverie is broken by a rumbling cavalcade of motorcycles, then a pickup loaded with surfboards and finally a dude on a long skateboard, in a focused crouch, pointing straight down the precipitous road. It’s all part of Rincon’s proudly burnished surf town vibe, spiced with a defiant Puerto Rican edge.
We drive south through bucolic fields that rise from the sea into forested hills. Unimpressed by the horses grazing in the billowing grass, Kai asks whether real dinosaurs live here. When I shrug — who can say for sure? — he christens the fields Dino Land.
Smack in the middle of Dino Land, an unmarked dirt track brings us to the best father-son beach we will find. Gently curving and backed by a line of trees, the beach features indented stone formations, worn smooth by the relentless sea, that slope into the clear water like a staircase for very peculiar feet.
We release a crocodile, a tiger and a pachycephalosaurus into a sand pit, drawing a couple of boys over for drive-by play, but nothing lasting enough to allow me the long swim I am craving.
We eventually hit the water together — Kai hugging my head while I struggle to avoid drowning — before repairing to the lone on-site structure, a little lunch shack, where we chow empanadas at a communal picnic table.
Rincon is peppered with spots like this beach, natural beauty left largely natural, with a hint of a rough edge (theft from cars is a minor issue in many of the rutted dirt parking lots) and from what I can tell, locals and visitors are happy to leave the luxury to more snooty Caribbean destinations.
The exception is the far southern edge of town, where the hills flatten out and a string of larger resorts bulge onto the beach. We burn half a day here, playing on a thin, sloping strip of sand in front of the Villa Cofresi resort before poaching a swim in the hotel’s pools.
I never get around to stocking our fridge, save for five beers and random leftovers, so we eat out. Our best dinners are at a street-side bar called La Cambija, the Spanish word for the old water tower that stands across the road. The seafood arrives daily and is listed on a chalkboard menu. The grouper kebabs, tuna ceviche, beers and succulent fresh watermelon juice conspire with lively regulars, including a brick of a bulldog named Spartacus, to make this our favorite nightspot.